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January 17, 2021

Sindh govt seeks Centre’s permission to directly procure Covid vaccine from foreign govts, firms

Karachi

January 17, 2021

Mentioning that it appeared Pakistan would be the last country to vaccinate its people in the world, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho on Saturday sought the federal government’s permission to directly negotiate with foreign governments and private companies for the procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine.

“Not only the United States, United Kingdom and Turkey but even India and Sub-Saharan African countries have started vaccinating their people against Covid-19 but the response of the federal government regarding acquiring vaccines for the people is very slow and disappointing. We want the federal government to allow us to negotiate with foreign countries and the private companies to purchase vaccine directly for the people of Sindh,” Dr Azra Pechuho told a news conference in Karachi.

Accompanied by Sindh Local Bodies and Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah and University of Karachi International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) Director Dr Iqbal Chaudhry, the provincial health minister criticised the federal government for making slow decisions to acquire one or more Covid-19 vaccines for the people of Pakistan and asked why the federal government was hesitant to use the Chinese vaccines in Pakistan when several countries had started vaccinating their people with them.

“The federal government itself has announced the procurement of Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, whose trials have successfully been completed at the ICCBS. This vaccine has been used in the UAE, Bahrain and some other countries so there is no issue in its safety and efficacy. I wonder why the government is delaying its deployment in Pakistan,” she observed.

Claiming that all arrangements had been completed for the deployment of vaccine in Sindh as the provincial government had even conducted the ‘dry run’ or rehearsal of the vaccination in Karachi and another districts of Sindh, Dr Azra said all what the Sindh government needed now was the vaccine as the novel coronavirus was mutating rapidly. She added that due to rapid changes in the genome of the virus, nobody knew whether or not the available vaccines would be effective against the coronavirus in the days to come.

When her attention was drawn towards the emergency use authorisation granted by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) to the Astrazeneca’s ‘AZD1222’ vaccine in the country, she said a private supplier had been allowed by Drap to procure it for Pakistan and she would request the federal government to allow the Sindh government to procure it from the private supplier for the people of Sindh. “This vaccine by the Oxford-Astrazeneca, whose emergency use authorisation has been given by Drap to the private supplier, will be available very shortly in Pakistan and we wish to procure it directly from the private party. Secondly, we want to deploy the Sinopharm vaccine and in this regard, we need permission to talk to the Chinese government directly,” she said.

Responding to a query, she said vaccination against Covid-19 was immensely important as it was feared that those who would not be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus would not be allowed to travel abroad just as what happened in the case of polio as the Pakistani nationals had to show the polio vaccination certificates for visas and travel to other countries of the world.

Schools reopening

Commenting on the reopening of schools, Dr Azra said she believed schools should not be opened unless the positivity ratio dropped to below 3 per cent, which was currently around 6 per cent at the national level.

Explaining her stance, she said decisions regarding opening of schools should be taken more carefully as children remain in their educational institutions and classrooms for five to six hours and this provides enough time for the virus to get transmitted to others.

“I still believe that schools should not be opened at least in Karachi and Hyderabad where positivity is highest compared to the rest of the country,” she remarked.

JPMC, NICVD and NICH

On the issue of the federal government’s control of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) and National Institute of Child Health (NICH), Dr Azra said the federal government wanted to

privatise the federal health institutions to get rid of them.

She added that the staff of PIMS Islamabad and hospitals in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were protesting against the Centre’s policy to run health facilities by constituting governing boards. She reiterated that the JPMC, NICVD and NICH should remain in the provincial custody as they were service delivery centres.

“As per the 18th amendment, these health facilities are service delivery centres and should be in the provincial control. I would urge the judges to look into this matter and decide this matter,” she said.

The health minister further claimed that as per the federal government’s commitment to the IMF, it did not want to pay pensions and provident fund to employees and wanted to hire all the employees on a contractual basis and charge patients for diagnosis and medicines, which was not acceptable to Sindh.